Kenya hailed the death of Osama bin Laden as an act of justice, but said more must be done to bring stability to neighbouring Somalia, where al Qaeda-linked fighters are waging an insurgency.
Al Qaeda first struck east Africa in 1998, killing hundreds of people, mostly Africans, in suicide bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In Somalia, a lack of a strong government for two decades has made the nation a haven for foreign jihadists bent on striking the region.
“Kenyans are happy and thank the US people, the Pakistani people and everybody else who managed to kill Osama,” Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told Reuters after US forces killed bin Laden in Pakistan, Reuters reports.
Many Kenyans still lived with physical and mental scars from al Qaeda’s 1998 attack, Odinga said. “Osama’s death can only be positive for Kenya, but we need to have a stable government in Somalia,” he added. “The loss of its leader may first upset the movement but then it will regroup and continue.”
The United States has said al Shabaab militants who are trying to topple Somalia’s U.N.-backed government are al Qaeda’s proxy in the region. The group has a number of foreign fighters in its ranks.
In the past few years, al Shabaab has used suicide bombers to kill several Somali government ministers. It also claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks in Uganda that killed 79 soccer fans watching the World Cup final last July, and the group has also threatened to strike Kenya.
“JUSTICE FROM THE MAKER”
Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who was an Islamist rebel himself before joining a U.N.-backed peace process, also welcomed bin Laden’s killing.
“Osama was a threat to the world, including Muslims,” he said in the capital Mogadishu. “The suicide bombings that killed many government ministers were the ideology of Osama.”
In 2002, a regional al Qaeda cell bombed a hotel on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast and tried to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet taking off from the port city of Mombasa.
Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki likewise supported the U.S. action against bin Laden. “His killing is an act of justice to those Kenyans who lost their lives and the many more who suffered injuries,” said Kibaki.
Victims of the embassy blast in Nairobi called bin Laden’s death a relief but said they feared renewed support for militant Islamist groups in the region.
Douglas Sidialo, who was blinded by shards of flying glass when a truck bomb detonated outside the U.S. mission in Nairobi, said bin Laden’s death was a “huge relief”.
“This is justice from the maker (God). However, I would rather he had been captured and confessed to his evil deeds,” said Sidialo. “I fear that this might trigger renewed recruitment amongst those who viewed bin Laden as a martyr.”
A top Tanzanian police officer echoed Sidialo’s fears. “Osama is just one man, he is not the last terrorist in the world. The war on terrorism is not over,” Robert Manumba, director of criminal investigations, told Reuters.
The spokesman for Uganda’s army, which forms the backbone of an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, said the region should be on guard for retaliatory attacks, although bin Laden’s death could help to weaken the Somali insurgents.
“We may see al Shabaab losing some of its backing in terms of financial support because al Qaeda was playing a big role. The main finance man behind al Qaeda was Osama bin Laden,” said Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) spokesman Lt. Col Felix Kulayigye.